Sprouting Dirt

Large Roma Tomato

I am going to do something I have not done for a long time. I am not ordering seeds from any of my favorite catalogues.

This is breaking my heart, but, it is preferable to breaking my neck. Which, it appears, is what I’ve been doing to myself.

I am not giving up gardening, only cutting back. I will sow the seeds I saved from my tomatoes: Italian Heirloom gotten from Brad Stufflebeam of Home Sweet Farm fame, Carbon seeds saved from a shipment from Home Sweet Farm’s CSA back when I was a working shareholder, large Romas, and small and large Slicers. I call them Slicers because I had planted five varieties of “slicers” in that bed and I’m pretty sure they’re as mixed up as I am when trying to decipher my husband’s handwriting.

Got a couple of varieties of pepper, some herbs and greens. Cucumbers. Melons. Butternut and spaghetti squash. Not a whole lot else going in.   What’s that you say? You think this is a lot? Maybe I saved a lot more seed than I thought I had. Maybe – you don’t have to spend money on seeds to have a garden.   But, and here’s where I steer myself back on track again, you have to grow the dirt to grow the garden.

Cousin Emme Sue always said to put a fifty-cent plant in a five-dollar hole. I have followed that advice religiously. So to build up my soil, the first thing I’m doing is sampling the soil that is already in place. Then I’ll add in the yummy goodness that only compost can bring (My horses’s manure, leaves and kitchen scraps were churned all summer by the chickens and have rested for the past three months, waiting for the time when I break out the front loader on the tractor and dig into the middle of the pile. I have about three yards of compost this year. Should be enough to amend the kitchen garden beds and perhaps have enough left over to fill in that pesky dip in the backyard.

Just waiting for results from the soil lab so I know what to add in addition to the compost. Why would I need to add anything else Micronutrients. Something to raise or lower the pH. Provide balance to the N-K-Ph mix. An excuse to dig in my lovely new dirt?

 

Sorry — gotta go watch my dirt grow.

Almost planting time!

 

Julie

Rolling in the Beets

 

I planted the oddest little seeds I’ve ever seen last fall. They looked like tiny little asteroids. When dropped from my hand into the dirt, they disappeared as if into thin air (or outer space.)

Lo and behold, bright green tips arose where the asteroids had collided with my planting beds and voila! instant root vegetables.

Well, not instant. It took another couple of months, during which time I enjoyed baby beet greens – but then I had them. Creamy sweetness coming out of my oven.

 

My favorite new start this year was Chioggia Beets.They come out of the ground looking quite normal and then, once you cut them open, you get a beet that has white and red rings like it ran away to the circus and came home as the tent. Of course once they are truly cooked the difference between the rings is not as noticeable, but boy are they tasty.

 

 

 

Beet Salad

I first had this salad at a trendy little place in New York. (Okay, so I define trendy as on the nearest corner, but still…)

Ingredients:

Beets, both root and greens
Garlic, 2 – 3 cloves
Olive oil
S&P to taste (I use sea salt because it’s just better.)
Blue Cheese
Lightly roasted Walnuts

Clean your beets, reserving the beet greens.

Put the beets in a 325 degree oven to roast

  • drizzle with olive oil, salt lightly
  • wrap in foil
  • bake 30 minutes for a beet fist size or smaller, longer for those larger.
  • Don’t eat them if they’re old. Tough. Tough. Tough. MUCH better when you get them from your farmer’s market.

T-Minus 15 minutes ’til the beets are done: Roast walnuts in your skillet by turning up the flame and pushing them around, or, if you prefer, use your toaster oven.

When the beets have about ten minutes left to cook, chop your garlic to the desired choppiness and put in a skillet with some olive oil. Turn up the heat and sauté.

Once they’re tender (=not totally brown) dump your cleaned beet greens in and sauté until tender. Don’t overcook them, a little crunch is good. Remove from stovetop.

Pull beets out of the oven. Pull the skins off. (I tend to just cut in as if quartering. The skin peels easily.) Cut into smallish pieces.

Arrange greens on the plate. 
Sprinkle with walnuts.
Arrange cut beets on top.
Add about a Tablespoon or two of blue cheese.

Enjoy!

 

 

Payoff!

There is no better reason to garden than my supper this evening.

Spaghetti squash, just off the vine.
24 small yellow pear tomatoes, halved. (A fraction of what I picked today.)
three cloves of garlic (dug out of hydrator from spring harvest)
bell pepper (Picked this afternoon.)
salt and pepper to taste (Grocery store)

 

Cook squash in 375 degree oven for an hour.

While the squash is cooking is a good time to clean out your fridge, or sort the garlic to pull out your starts for the garden…or sit down with a glass of wine and finally read the paper…

 

When you have ten minutes left on the squash:

Saute garlic in oils of your choice. (I use Texas-grown olive oil from the farmer’s market.)

Add bell pepper and chopped tomatoes. (I used the yellow pear tomatoes because I have a bazillion of them — yes, I am bragging!)

Saute until tomatoes begin to collapse.

Top with chopped fresh basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

Oh, and for dessert?

 

Spring is Sprung

I’m about to make Deb jealous again. I started my tomato seeds a few weeks ago and am about to stick the fledgling plants in the ground. Uh-huh. You heard me right. Second week in March. Tomatoes in the ground!

You see I garden on the Gulf Coast where the sea breezes coming from 100 miles away still reach my front pasture. (Where the kitchen garden resides.) Typical last frost used to be counted as Valentine’s Day hereabouts, but now it’s the first of March. I can tell it’s Spring by the blooms on the mulberry tree.

At least I thought I could. And then the temps went back down to the 40s. So much for my poor tomatoes in the ground. Thank goodness for freeze cloth!

Varieties planted in Spring 2011:  Vorlon, Carbon, Roma, Better Boy, Yellow Pear, Cour de Blue, Amish Paste.

Happy gardening!

Whirled Peas

“For the love of Pea, won’t you please grow?”

This is me, nervously watching, and occasionally verbally abusing, my spring plantings. I’ve currently got potatoes, fennel, cabbage (left from the fall) broccoli (ditto) and brussel spouts (ditto). I know I’ll never see actual edible stuff off that broccoli and brussel sprout plants, but I can’t give up on them, I just can’t. (But I’ve planted a few broccoli seeds, just in case.)

So far, the highlight of the coming of spring is the duet of Asparagus tips that appeared this week in the clump I established last year. If I hadn’t noticed them because Buttons was peeing on them, I might have harvested them…but now…thanks to the 6 pound wonderdog, not going there. (Note to self: put up fencing around the clump to prevent future “watering”.)

But those peas…wait…I think I see some green!

What do you mean you can’t see it? OK, I”ll go back out and take a better picture…

Wow those grow quickly! (Actual time-lapse between photos is three days.)

These are Lincoln garden peas, which I look forward to crunching in my spring salads. Last year I only got about three pea pods off my peas, but the year before I got tons, well, was able to freeze about two cups, and had fresh peas in my spring salads for about two months. Mmmmm. Lincoln peas are supposed to do better in warm climates. South Texas counts as warm which is why I’m planting this variety this time around.

Bed Prep:

  • Check the soil Ph. Optimum conditions for peas are a soil with a pH of between 6.0 or 7.0.
  • Add compost to make sure you have a good level of healthy soil.

Planting:

  • Inoculate your seed for better healthy growth.
  • Direct seed, space at 2″.
  • Plant 2″ deep.
  • Create Rows 2″ apart.
  • Sow additional seed in additional bed space every 2 – 3 weeks for succession plantings.

When to plant:

  • Depends on your climate.
  • Like cool weather, but are susceptible to easy freeze damage.

Where to plant:

  • Like raised beds for good drainage.
  • Rotate your crops. (Even if you have a small garden! The bed pictured above had squash and cucumbers in it last season, so the rotation worked out well for me.)
  • If you find that your peas turn dark they may have a fungal disease. Remove and dispose of separately. Don’t turn under as this won’t do you any favors — only continues the problem in that bed’s soil.

Happy gardening!

Ground Down

I made a sweet deal with my friendly neighborhood coffee shop. I provide a 5 gallon bucket with a lid, and they will dump their used coffee grounds in for me to take home for free!

 

First load home is destined to go on the roses in the morning. I’ll swab out the bucket to make it nice and clean before returning to the shop for more grounds to add to the spring carrot bed.

 

Why coffee grounds? Well, for one thing, they are filled with coffee goodness and the plants need perking up. Wait, seriously? Coffee grounds are filled with phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. All things that plants need to grow up healthy and strong. In addition, it’s just plain old good for your dirt. They actually improve the soil’s texture…helping to improve the air and water movement through the dirt under your plants roots. They are acidic, so make sure your Ph is compatible with this before plunking them into your beds. You can neutralize the Ph to your garden’s needs by adding some agricultural lime to the beds at the same time as the grounds. Here on our farm, everything is pretty alkaline so the grounds actually help me keep the soil’s Ph where my plants like it.

 

I am truly excited about having a ready source of “green” matter for my compost heap. No matter now much I trim the shrubs or put kitchen scraps in the compost bucket, I cannot keep up with the horses’ “output”. (I spread the manure in the pastures out on the pastures and the manure from the stalls the area close to the house goes in the compost heap.) Coffee grounds count as Green for the compost. (According to the EPA, no more than 25% of your compost should be coffee grounds.)

 

Added benefit? Ants hate coffee. Good thing. I used the last of my agricultural molasses this week.

 

Happy Gardening!

Swiss Chard — not as neutral as you’d think

Photo of Swish Chard from GardenGuides.com
Image from GardenGuides.com

I grew up in a family rabid about Ohio State Football. I never quite understood how this logically translated into a vegetable eating exhortation, “Julie, eat your spinach like Popeye, so that you can grow up to play football for Woody Hays,” but it was one I often heard. My parents would have been better served to have chosen Swiss Chard as the vegetable they associated with Ohio State Football as it actually comes in red.

I live in the Gulf Coast region of Texas and Spinach does not do well here — too much heat and too much rain. Swiss Chard, however, loves the climate. Also known as Spinach Beet (It’s actually a relative of the beet family.) this grew all spring and through the summer for me, although I did find evidence of insect damage at the height of summer.

I direct seeded the beds with seed from one of my favorite sources. I prepped the bed with the usual mixture of compost and some additional fertilizer, covered the seeds with about 1/2 to 1 inch of soil, and watered it in. They sprouted in about two weeks — a long time during which time I was certain the ants had enjoyed quite the picnic at my expence. Once they were up, I followed safe advice to thin the seedlings to six inches, using the thinned plants as garnishes in salads.

I harvested leaves as they got large enough to look good to eat. For me this meant anywhere from six inches tall to ten. The more I harvested, the more leaves appeared. I harvest from the outside in to allow the fresh leaves room to grow.

Nutritional Info: Leaves and stalks come loaded with vitamin A, C, and contain Vitamin B, Calcium, Iron, and Phosphorus. Does not contain the Oxilic Acid present in Spinach that blocks absorption of Calcium! Weight watching junkies like me will appreciate that they are very low in calories, while being high in fiber.

My favorite way to cook them is to stir-fry both the stems and the leaves together with some garlic in a little olive oil. Mmmmm!

Happy Gardening!

Julie